Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Best on the LPGA: 2-Time Winners, October 2010 Edition

After Katherine Hull's record-setting win in Prattville last week, it's high time to see where she stands in terms of her likelihood to move on to my 3-to-6-time winners' list this season. Will she join the players who have graduated from my February list of 2-time LPGA winners?

Most Likely to Win in 2010

1. In-Kyung Kim: It's shocking to me that Kim hasn't won yet this season. Ever since she told me at Locust Hill that her season's been "on and off," she's been on in a big way. She's only had 2 finishes outside the top 6 since the end of June. In fact, except for a missed cut at the Bell Micro and a T58 last week at the Navistar--except, that is, for her play in Alabama--she's been in the top 45 in every start this season. Given that she'll be rejoining the LPGA about as far from Alabama as you can get next week, I'm confident she'll be the 1st player to graduate from this list.
2. Morgan Pressel: Pressel still hasn't quite had the "breakout 2010" I called for back in February, but she's super-close. She has top 20s in 9 of her last 12 starts and has finished outside the top 40 only twice all season. I actually wouldn't be surprised if she beat Inky to the punch by winning this week in Danville.

The Contenders

3. Katherine Hull: OK, OK, Hull's only had 4 really good events this season, but despite struggling to put 4 good rounds in a row together--until last week, that is--she's been inside the top 45 in every event but her 3 missed cuts.
4. Michelle Wie: Here's hoping going to classes hasn't put too much of a strain on Wie's back and that she's getting some serious study-abroad credit for her trip to Malaysia (and perhaps beyond?) in a couple of weeks. The only reason I'm putting her this low is that she's had a very up-and-down season and it's hard to tell which Michelle's going to show up after such a long layoff--much less how often she'll be playing after next week.
5. Anna Nordqvist: The LET's '09 Rookie of the Year hasn't had a bad 2010--in fact, it's been much better than most are giving her credit for--but she's been overshadowed by the fantastic play of the LPGA's super-elite. Hound Dog claims her rookie season last year was the best by anyone in LPGA history who failed to win the Rookie of the Year award and ranks it 8th overall. She's heading into Kuala Lumpur with 2 top 10s in a row under her belt, but with all the layoffs in between it's hard to say whether she's truly got the momentum to get past her rough spot in July and August. When you consider that even in the midst of it she got a top 20 at Evian and a top 10 in Ireland, you have to conclude that she's capable of winning before the season ends.
6. Eun-Hee Ji: She's showing signs of coming out from under her U.S. Women's Open jinx of late. Let's see if she can build some serious momentum for a stretch run!
7. Christina Kim: She got her putter going for a nice stretch there mid-way through the season, but hasn't been all that sharp of late. Going home to a tournament she's won before this week might be just the antidote she needs.

Quantum Leap Candidates

8. Stacy Prammanasudh: Even though she still hasn't gotten her driving accuracy back to where it was in 2004-2006, when she was hitting the fairway over 70% of the time, her putter's been more dependable this season and she's poised to start putting herself back in contention if she can just improve her ballstriking.
9. Karen Stupples: So far she hasn't had the "great 2010" I predicted for her. It seems like the 1st full season back from maternity leave is a lot tougher than even an immediate but partial return to competition. Nothing wrong with her ballstriking, but the putts just haven't been dropping.
10. Jeong Jang: The comeback I predicted for her this season after her wrist surgery was right on schedule until she WDed from the Safeway Classic and didn't start in the Canadian Women's Open. Even after a rest, she missed the cut in NW Arkansas and needed a 67 on Friday to make the cut at the Navistar. Maybe the Asian Swing will rejuvenate her game!
11. Meena Lee: So far her 2010 has been about the same as her previous 3 seasons, which saw her fall from averaging 1 win and 6 top 10s per year to averaging only about 2 top 10s per year. Unfortunately, her approach shots remain her Achilles heel, but she's been showing signs of improvement on that front. With only 2 missed cuts, she's hanging around and giving herself lots of chances to get back into contention. Let's see if she can make it happen on the short Blackhawk course this week.
12. Ji Young Oh: Looks like my doubts in February--"Somehow I can't believe that this Junior Mint has as promising a future on the LPGA as the other Young Guns on this list, but she's proven me wrong before and she could well do it again in 2010. She trained with Ji-Yai Shin in Australia over the off-season, so I wouldn't put anything past her."--were right on target. She's been playing so badly this season that her 5-event made cut streak leading up to the Navistar had been its highlgight. Unfortunately, she missed the cut in Alabama. Let's see how northern California treats her.

On the Bottom, Looking Up

13. Janice Moodie: This 3-time Solheim Cupper has never lost her LPGA tour card, even when she gave birth in 2006 and played only 10 events. But she hasn't won since 2002 and has gotten only 5 of her 45 career top 10s from 2006-up, so it's not like being a mom on tour hasn't taken its toll on her game. And so far this season doesn't seem all that different from her last 4. Still, with a 15th-place finish in NW Arkansas sandwiched in between several recent missed cuts, her game has at least shown some glimmers of life. If she can take advantage of the shorter Blackhawk course and improve her approach shots, her putter can bring her back in contention.
14. Jennifer Rosales: She was a top-30 caliber player from 2002-2005, when she notched her 2 wins and 17 of her 19 top 10s, but she hasn't broken into the top 10 since then, making only 42 of 69 cuts from 2006 to 2009 (and that's using the LPGA's generous policy of not usually counting WDs and DQs toward totals on career bio pages). Well, she's made 10 of 14 cuts this season, but only has 1 top 20 to show for her improved consistency. At #72 on the money list, she'll most likely keep her card, but she needs to improve her putting to have a hope of contending again on the LPGA.
15. Michele Redman: She hasn't been the top 30 player she was from 2000-2005 for quite some time, but even in that less impressive stretch she's never finished worse than 61st on the money list and ended 2009 ranked #44 on my Best of the LPGA ranking. Back in February, I wrote that "I don't see any signs that she won't continue to add to her total of 76 career top 10s since she joined the LPGA in 1992, but at the slower pace she's set in 2006-2009, when she's averaged just over 1 per season." Well, she'll need a great week in Danville to avoid her worst season in this millennium.
16. Laura Diaz: She suffered easily the worst season of her LPGA career in 2009, when she couldn't find the fairways off the tee or the hole once she got to the green. She'd been a regular in the top 40 and on the Solheim Cup since 2000, and even had 2 consecutive top-10 seasons early last decade, but coming back from the birth of her daughter has proven quite difficult. However, she had her best finish of the season in Prattville and if she can keep the momentum going in Danville may just earn enough on the season to break into the top 100 on the money list.
17. Gloria Park: She got a medical exemption after sitting out all of 2009 on a maternity leave, so has stayed at #141 on the priority status list all season. But being one of the newest moms on tour hasn't made her comeback any easier. A pair of T29s and a pair of missed cuts in her last 4 events exemplify her lack of consistency. Now she needs a great finish this week to have a chance to keep her card in 2011.

On the Outside, Looking In

18. Carin Koch: She notched 56 top 10s between 1995 and 2008, but only 2 wins--and at the Corning Classic and in Mexico (2 warning signs from my 1-time winners' ranking). But 2009 was a disaster whenever she took the driver out of her hands and despite being #155 on the current LPGA priority status list, she has stuck by her decision to move back to Sweden and has played only the 2 dual LPGA-LET events this season. Don't get me wrong--she's often played well on the LET--but she's not giving herself many chances to add to her LPGA win total.
19. Patricia Meunier-Lebouc: She's made 16 of 42 LPGA cuts over the previous 3 seasons before this one and sits at #221 on the priority status list for 2010. She's also curtailed her LET schedule in that same period and doesn't appear on this year's LET money list, so it's looking my guess in February that "she's almost ready to move on from her professional golf career, which dates back to 1994 on the LET" was pretty dead-on.
20. Heather Daly-Donofrio: She's made 16 of 40 cuts over the previous 4 seasons before this one and joined the LPGA's Communications Department in 2009. Even though her daughter is past the terrible 2s, it's pretty clear she's not going to be entering any events this season from #234 on the current priority status list.

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